Governor offers to take control of budget dirty work

Published 6:00 am Monday, November 9, 2009

It’s understandable that lawmakers would not want to cede morecontrol of state purse strings to Gov. Haley Barbour, as theRepublican state leader requested last week during a JointLegislative Budget Committee meeting.

However, the alternative puts the fiscal ball back in the courtof the Mississippi Legislature, where House and Senate factionshave struggled mightily to craft budgets in recent years. Lawmakersleft the Capitol after the regular session this year without abudget and were only able to reach a begrudging agreement justbefore the start of the new fiscal year.

Revenue collections, though, have not met budget expectationsand Barbour already has made funding cuts in response. More cutsare expected to be needed as the state economy continues tolag.

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Under current state law, the governor may cut up to 5 percent ofagency funding. Larger reductions require the House and Senate tobe called back into session.

Barbour’s request to give him – as well as future governors -the ability to cut up to 10 percent could be seen by some as anattempt at a power grab. There may be some validity to thatassertion.

But in making his request, the governor is also serving himselfup as the target for scorn that would be sure to come fromDemocratic lawmakers, state agencies and others who would have todeal with the budget cuts. Another word for the governor’s requestwould be leadership.

“Cut” is not a word that House Democrats like to use. Yet thefiscal reality facing the state is requiring them to apply thatword from their vocabulary.

If lawmakers refuse to grant Barbour’s request – a likelyoutcome based on their comments following Thursday’s meeting – thenit will be on them to make the hard decisions on budget cuts.

When that happens, words like “obstructionist” and’partisanship” should not be leveled at the governor and Senatewhen the House refuses to go along with cuts that – while painful -are in the state’s best interests. While no one really wants to dothe budget dirty work, lawmakers throwing mud will serve no goodwhen the governor offered to do the job himself.